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The facts about asthma triggers and exercise

The facts about asthma triggers and exercise

Even if you’ve had asthma for a while, you may still wonder whether exercise is good for you or if it’ll trigger a flare-up. Can exercise be one of your asthma triggers?

Asthma is incredibly common. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, approximately 26 million Americans have the condition.

What’s interesting to note is that each person who has asthma has a unique set of triggers. The first step toward creating a plan to manage the condition and prevent symptoms is to gain a good understanding of your triggers.

Understanding what causes asthma symptoms

Asthma causes the airways to become inflamed and swollen. This, in turn, causes the symptoms of asthma you’re familiar with, such as shortness of breath, wheezing and chest tightness.

If you’ve been diagnosed with asthma, your medical provider will work with you to determine an effective treatment plan. Treatment for asthma has two primary purposes—to prevent asthma attacks from occurring and to resolve symptoms when they occur. Part of determining the right treatment plan for your needs is identifying your triggers.

A variety of things can trigger asthma, leading to inflammation in the airways. Common triggers include allergens (such as pollen, dust mites and animal dander), gasses, air pollution, fragrances, smoke and even weather-related changes, like cold, dry air. Interestingly enough, stress can also trigger asthma, as can exercise in many cases.

When it comes to exercise, though, things get a little tricky. For most people with asthma, exercise is a recommended part of their asthma treatment plan. Exercise and other healthy lifestyle habits, in coordination with asthma medicine, can often help keep the condition under control.

So, what if you have exercise-induced asthma? You can still benefit from exercise, too. Just proceed carefully.

MORE: You vs. spring allergies: how to identify and avoid your triggers

What to know about exercising with asthma

People who have exercise-induced asthma, also called exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB), experience a flare-up of asthma symptoms during physical activity.

Exercise-induced asthma symptoms like wheezing and shortness of breath will often appear within a few minutes of starting exercise. What causes this type of asthma?

It comes down to how we breathe when we exercise. Because sports and activities can be challenging to the body, we often breathe in through our mouths while we exercise. Air coming into the body through the mouth is drier and cooler than air coming in through the nose.

This cool and dry air causes the airways to become inflamed and narrower. Symptoms of exercise-induced asthma may worsen if you’re exercising outdoors when the pollen count is high, when you’re sick or it’s very cold.

If you have exercise-induced asthma, you may be prescribed two different types of medication—a rescue inhaler used to quickly alleviate symptoms and what’s known as a controller medication, which is used to prevent flare-ups.

You can still safely exercise in nearly all cases with some precautions. Steer clear of activities that expose you to the cold, such as ice hockey and ice skating, along with those that require constant activity for a long period of time, like long-distance running.

Instead, choose activities and sports that provide short bursts of activity supplemented by rest time, such as softball or volleyball. Swimming indoors, which exposes the body to a warm and humid environment, can also be a good activity.

Back to that whole breathing thing—do as your coach instructs and breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth!

Your body can still benefit from physical activity, even if exercise is an asthma trigger. Just carefully follow your treatment plan and guidance from your medical provider.

A LCMC Health primary care provider can help you keep chronic health conditions like asthma under control. Find one here.